Woodstock to Wellness
The story of Sandy Pukel
If Sandy looks familiar, it may be because he has appeared many times in south Florida newspapers, natural foods magazines, and even on national television. However, if you are a member of the hip generation, you may recognize him as one of the flower children who were interviewed, naked, in the film classic Woodstock. Sandy's transformation from a junk food eating hippie to one of this country's most influential advocates for healthy eating has been a spiritual quest of epic proportions.
After law school in the early 1970's, Sandy had a profound life altering experience. He happened to take a macrobiotic cooking class. The balancing principles of the macrobiotic way of life seemed to be a perfect fit for his life, and soon he was focused not only on changing his life, but changing our nation's attitudes towards food and health.
With a $4000 loan from his father, Sandy opened a natural food store, called Oak Feed, in the law office of a friend in Coconut Grove, Florida. Before long he moved to a larger location, and by the 1990's, Oak Feed was doing 2 million dollars in annual sales and occupied one of the swankiest addresses in South Florida. What's more, as Coconut Grove grew and became a Mecca for everything chic, the Oak Feed store became the place to rub elbows with the elite of film and sport. However, Sandy's good financial fortune and growing notoriety did not deter him from his bigger dream. With resources from his business Sandy helped to establish several macrobiotic foundations in Florida and began sponsoring conferences featuring macrobiotic world leaders such as Michio Kushi and Herman Aihara. As interest in macrobiotics, Oriental medicine, health and food grew, Sandy's workshops and conferences expanded to include nationally known teachers and speakers who attracted thousands of attendees in Florida, California, and Colorado. Proceeds from many of these events were used to educate school children about the benefits of good nutrition. John Robbins, author of Diet for a New America (Stillpoint), is one celebrity who has attended several of Sandy's conferences. "Sandy is one of the brightest minds in the natural healing movement," says Robbins about his friend. In Sandy's own words, "My life is an expression of what I think is important. 'You are what you eat' is really true. Food creates the body and has a great influence on our mind and spiritual life. My dream is a peaceful, ecologically sane world, which I feel must begin with balanced eating."
In the Spring of 2005 Sandy and his partner John launched A Taste of Health, a fun filled cruise vacation with gourmet vegan fare and extraordinary educational opportunities. The cruise has from 400 guests on its maiden voyage in 2004 and has grown to 1,850 in 2015. Sandy and head cruise chef Mark Hanna published a cruise cookbook, Greens and Grains on the Deep Blue Sea, which features the recipes served by Mark during the cruise. True to his ideals, Sandy refuses to use dairy or foods that contain processed sugars and preservatives.
Although Sandy's motto is "everything changes," in many ways he is still the casual, friendly guy he was back in his hippie days. His approach to life is still very anti-establishment, and most days he can be seen riding around the Grove in his '73 orange beetle convertible wearing Bermuda shorts, Birkenstock sandals, and a bright flowered shirt. Like his store, Sandy is a Coconut Grove icon.
In July of 2005 Sandy received the Aveline Kushi Award for his outstanding life-long service in promoting macrobiotics and holistic health.